When looking at archival sources for the institute it has often been difficult to hear the children’s voices. This is a common problem with disability history, that their stories have remained unheard. This difficulty has inspired us to write this blog, Unspoken Voices, to tell the stories of those who have often been hidden in history.
For this final blog post we are going to focus on William Jenkin Davies a “deaf and dumb” child, who was a pupil at the Cambrian Institute. William was born in 1846 into a family of 8 children, with 3 sisters who were also “deaf and dumb”. However, only William was sent off to the Cambrian institute, a pattern widely seen at the institute, which had very few female students.
The schools days were strictly timetabled, and although we can’t be completely sure of his daily activities, our research suggests he would have followed the timetable, as shown below. He would have been instructed in both education, as well as manual subjects, in order to prepare him for life outside the institute, work which was often provided by friends.
The dietary program of the children were scheduled to the exact ounce per child depending on their age, this can be seen in the image below. During the week, the children would either have bread and milk or porridge and milk for breakfast a day. Their tea was the same every day, bread and butter with coffee. If you were older then you would have been given bread and cheese for your supper. We know today that young children like those at the Cambrian Institute should not have coffee but also there are many studies nowadays suggesting that the caffeine in coffee can be harmful to people with mental illnesses.
During the research we discovered that William J. Davies had been ill many times in the year of the 1861 census which shows him in the Cambrian Institute in April 1861. The Cambrian Institute was hit by sickness and disease, which had hit Swansea round the time of the census. There are correspondences showing William J. Davies coming back and forth from his home in North Wales during his period of illness. Although these children may have been more susceptible to illness and disease, this may have been increased by the poor conditions of the Cambrian Institute such has been discussed in early posts. Unfortunately, while at his home in late October 1861 William passed away. There is a report from the Headmaster about William’s character and untimely death a week after the news of his death. The Headmaster never mentioned William’s disability in his report to the council members just stating that he would be missed by the other children at the Institute.
Although deaths like this are sad, for children in disabled schools it was a common occurrence then and now. Anika Baddeley has commented on the normality of deaths in her school life, therefore demonstrating parallels between the past and today.
Although the school cared for the children the best they could with poor funding there are still reports of abuse, similar to those we hear about today. Once such child was Stephen Franklin, who was transferred from a workhouse to the Cambrian Institute however shortly after he was returned to the workhouse with serious injuries. The boy was investigated by the medical officer at the workhouse who found extension bruising and a poor mental state, the report was sent back to the Cambrian Institute but there is little evidence that this report was taken any further.
Similarly, today there are a number of reports of abuse in schools and care homes, for example: Springwood Primary School in Salford and in a care home near Bristol. Although we think of these types of abuse as being “Victorian” and a thing of the past, these abuses can be seen today. In Springwood Primary, three children were abused and the parents complained that it had been “swept under the carpet.” It is clear that there are lessons to be learnt from the past, perhaps if we paid more attention to the past we could rectify this. This therefore shows the importance of studying disability history which is as important as other histories, including black history and gender history.
It is easy to confine events that occurred in the Cambrian Institute in the past, yet we hope to have demonstrated how this is untrue. There are many parallels between the past and present day and there are definite improvements in the care of disabled children and people, however there is still room for improvement and lessons to be learnt by reflecting on the past.